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Finding Purpose

We love student inquiry, right?

Question #1: Why do I have to write this essay? This is stupid. I'm going to be a plumber, so why do I have to read?

As a 10th grade Standard English teacher, it is not new for me to encounter students who don't want to engage in activities. This year, I decided to try some different approaches to see if I could get those students to try.

I took a step back and really thought about their comments. I discovered a common theme among them: they didn't understand why we were doing what we were doing.

Then it hit me.

I spend time listing agenda items at the start of a class. I write on a slide and discuss to clarify what we are going to do, what materials we'll use, if we're working together or independently, etc. But I never directly addressed why we were doing those things.

I decided to start split-screening that slide; on the left I still have our agenda items, but on the right I now explain why we're doing those things and how those activities translate into real-world situations. Communicating purpose is critical!

Question #2: Why do we need to annotate while we read? Why should I ask questions about this text during and after reading it? Why do I need to look at the author's style and craft?

We annotate because it helps us to remain active readers. Active readers remember more from a text and can engage in deeper analysis of that text. We ask questions about reading because that is what human beings do: we question things, we examine them, we talk about them to gain a better understanding of them. We need to look at how authors write to learn about different techniques. Those techniques can help us anticipate what happens next in similar texts.

I've noticed a positive change. I no longer get the "why" questions. In fact, many students are actually buying in because they do see the real-world value.

And that one little change has made the classroom atmosphere much more engaging, relaxed, and diligent. Communicating purpose is critical.

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